Riding in hot off the tail of Warner Brother’s DCEU franchise films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017) there’s this sense of trepidation that one has when walking into Aquaman; the fear that you’ll receive a mouthful of saltwater like many of the DCEU films have done so far. The only suppressant of this anxiety is the warm reception of Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman (2017) — it gave me hope that I would be seeing had the potential to catch me; hook, line, and sinker. Well, it did.
Aquaman continues the journey of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa); set just after the events of Justice League (2017), Arthur finds himself caught between two worlds; the human and the Atlantean. Arthur must decide whether to allow his war-hungry brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to hold the throne or to take his rightful place as the first heir. Arthur and his friend Merra (Amber Heard) embark on a journey to prevent war between the surface world and the ocean.
Aquaman is first and foremost and adventure film; throughout this adventure, Arthur and Mera travel the seven seas in search of a hidden treasure that could stop this war before it begins. Aquaman may be the first superhero film that embodies everything that a classic adventure story is made of; from deciphering clues, visiting various exotic locations, solving puzzles, and facing tests, this was in many ways a hybrid between a treasure hunt film and an origin story, leaning more in line with something like National Treasure (2004) than your typical superhero origin story. There’s an equal portion of both aspects that strike a fluid balance. There are countless moments throughout this film are, for lack of better words, outrageously entertaining to witness. From jaw-dropping visually striking action sequences to a tension filled chase that resembles something out of a horror film. Aquaman’s director James Wan utilises all of the weapons in his arsenal, blending in unpredictable components that are seldom seen in this genre.
Arthur is highly charismatic as far as hero’s go, he’s often found cracking jokes and laughing off life threatening situations throughout his journey, holding a far less serious attitude that he held in Justice League (2017). Arthur’s shagginess, tattooed body, and bar brawling fighting style makes him feel like an unconventional hero, more akin to a lovable thug than a bastion of hope. Of course this was all done intentionally, as a lot of effort has been made to break the cheesy image of Aquaman in people’s minds. Momoa succeeds in spectacular fashion without diving too deep into anti-hero territory; he’s brutal but not a brute. Though teenager Arthur was quite abysmal, I’ll just forget he happened.
Amber Heard as Mera is immaculate in her physical aesthetic, distinctly resembling a princess of the ocean but lacking the magical charm to go with it. Her personality felt drained of purpose and her allegiance to Arthur was murky and unexplored, but Heard does well enough as a companion character. We are of course given a romance story in between all of this, and for the most part it works, though the film felt the need to reiterate that they were becoming a thing every 10 minutes, which can get a little tiresome. The villain, Orm, was leagues more complex than the infamous Steppenwolf, but Patrick Wilson’s underwhelming ferociousness in this role left something to be desired, he wasn’t bad, just unsuited. Aquaman isn’t focused on fleshing out its characters like Wonder Woman (2017); instead it hopes for its audiences to ride the wave and grow attached along the way, and to some extent it works, but not quite effectively enough for the current to carry us to sandy shores.
Aquaman is a force of technical excellence, visually and tonally capturing the underwater world that we know so little about. The world-building being perhaps the best I’ve seen out the DCEU, despite mucking up some continuity. James Wan’s control and guidance behind the camera produces breathtaking imagery. The high intensity fight sequences are a pleasure to witness, as the camera glides through its environment while remaining locked on the individuals who are caught in the fight, this is how high budget action should be produced. You can practically smell the money that was spent on producing these seamless shots. From the framing, colour, and lighting this film is visually marvelous for something so heavily reliant on CGI use — producing stunning cinematic shots on par with Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
When we’re introduced to the vibrant Atlantian landscapes of the deep, the films score moves in; instilling a sense of wonderment and mystery. The aquatic tones are reminiscent of a synth-wave harmony and for a fleeting moment they resemble what I can only describe as an underwater Tron Legacy (2010). While the score is mighty, the soundtrack is far from it, as it is marred by the off-kilter song choices that were often too poppy for their own good, partially disrupting the tone of the film.
Aquaman may not be a narrative powerhouse, but by god it is solid popcorn fun, we’re transported to a vibrantly dense world that leaves every other DCEU film (save Wonder Woman) to shame. Momoa proves he lives in this role, and with the focused direction of James Wan audiences are left in good hands. With outstanding visuals, a truly adventure driven story, and Jason Momoa’s carefree persona, Aquaman splashes down with impressive force, commanding its own standalone position within the DCEU.